The Mirror

Labor Prof Defends Mike Elk’s Objective Labor Reporting Chops

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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A Columbia journalism professor who previously taught labor at CUNY is defending Politico reporter Mike Elk‘s ability to be an objective labor reporter despite his blatant support of unions.

Elk recently announced plans to unionize his newsroom and has gotten blasted by right wing groups like Grover Norquist‘s Center for Worker Freedom and right-leaning journalists around town for being a pro-union labor reporter for Politico. [RELATED: Grover Norquist’s Group Urges Politico Not To Unionize]

They’re also criticizing Politico for what they consider its idiocy in hiring Elk in the first place.

On Monday, the Center for Worker Freedom posted an essay: “Why Americans Don’t Trust Journalists.” They wrote, “Elk as a reporter is not only a potential headache for his employers, who have to deal with the repercussions of his actions. It is dangerous for readers as well.” They label the story: “Good Elk Hunting.”

They crack on Politico editors, saying, “POLITICO editors must know that such a major subject should be covered by a writer who understands the importance of promoting credible facts, and is not interested in using their occupation to push their political agenda.”

Riding in on his white horse Tuesday is Ari Paul, the Columbia professor, who is heartily defending him in Souciant, a political and culture mag.

“It’s true that Elk’s sympathies rest with unions,” he writes. “It shouldn’t be surprising. To suggest one must be neutral on the question of unionization in order to cover the labor beat is like saying a baseball fan can’t like the Red Sox even if she’s from Boston. Or that art coverage can only be conducted by those with no interest in the subject.”

The Center for Worker Freedom is obviously incensed by the professor’s explanation.

“It’s either a dishonest or misinformed defense of Mr. Elk and here’s why,” said CWF spokesman Matt Patterson in a phone conversation with The Mirror. “The sports analogy is ridiculous. Even if a sports reporter was a Red Sox fan it would be unprofessional for that reporter to advocate for the Red Sox. What makes Mike Elk a special situation is he has been an activist for organized labor. The very fact that he’s trying to organize Politico, where he works, shows that he cannot be objective in labor reporting. He’s so pro union that he’s trying to start a union. We had fears about this when Elk was hired. So the fact that he wants to start a union there justifies our fears.”

The prof goes on to say that critics have no earthly idea what labor journalism really is.

“A labor reporter must cover schisms between unions. For example, how trade unions which fought for the XL pipeline because it would create jobs also fought against it for health and environmental reasons.”

He has other examples of labor journalism: Covering public vs. private sector unions, reform movements within unions or the vastly different agendas between “seemingly similar” unions.

Paul ends his defense by completely insulting right wingers for being stupid.

“The right’s attack on Elk stems from a provincial, simplistic understanding of what it means to care about unions, whether one is a journalist or not,” he writes.

Elk declined to comment on this story for The Mirror. Paul and Elk are on a listserv together but apparently don’t know each other.